The Earth is such an amazing place, and there are so many things that happen that are beyond our control. Many of these things are weird and wonderful and revolve (pun intended) around our planet, its orbit, and the sun. One of the most amazing occurrences these days is the equinox. This is probably a word you’ve heard used in the past, perhaps even this month – but, maybe you haven’t given much thought to what it means.
This is one of those events that people mark in the calendar due to its special significance and the impact it has on the planet. If you were paying attention in school, you might be aware of what the equinox is, but, if you weren’t don’t worry, we’re here to share this with you. Let’s look a little closer at what this phenomenon is, and the impact it has on our lives.
There are actually two equinoxes that occur each year, one in the Spring, and one in the Fall. Simply put, it’s the time of year where the Earth’s equator passes through the middle of the sun’s disk. What happens during an equinox is that everywhere in the world experiences an equal amount of day and night – the word is ‘equinox’ comes from the Latin for ‘equal night.’ The equinox will occur twice a year, once in March, and once is September. The equinoxes are technically classed as the proper start of Spring and Fall as seasons.
Effect on the Earth
There are, as you might imagine, plenty of ways the equinoxes might have an impact on the Earth, and on daily life. Because of the equal split an equinox brings, it means that the Earth is spinning on its axis, but is also slightly tilted. This means that for half the year the northern hemisphere faces away from the sun, thus causing colder, darker, shorter days as it winter draws near. For the other half of the year, it faces the sun, resulting in hotter, longer days in the summer months. It also means that, because the equator is the closest to the sun, everywhere else on Earth receives the same length of day and night for the two days of the equinox.
So what’s a solstice?
Another word you might also sometimes hear in conjunction with equinox is a solstice. Again, there are two of these each year – the summer solstice and the winter solstice. Now, the solstice is slightly different to an equinox, but they share similarities. Basically, the solstice occurs when the sun reaches its northernmost or southernmost point, relative to the celestial sphere. This event is thought to mark the beginning of both the seasons of summer and winter. The day of the summer solstice has the most amount of daylight of any day of the year (usually June 21st), while the winter solstice sees the least amount of daylight, i.e., the shortest day (usually December 21st).
Both the equinox and the solstice are hugely important occurrences because they determine and define our seasons, as well as holding sway over day and night. So now you know how seasons work, and why we tend to have shorter days in the winter and longer in the summer. Next year, keep your eye out for when the equinox is due, and you can make an event of it!